Chatter about hyperlocal news in some form or another is a dozen years old or more, but the creation and delivery of block-level news is only growing. That’s both because of the growing demand of technology solutions to deliver and the expansion of web publishing tools to create.
Four years after Technically Philly first looked at the state of hyperlocal news in Philadelphia, the efforts have only widened.
New publishers and content creators are growing too.
Albert Stumm, founder and editor of the Passyunk Post, a neighborhood news blog for that stretch of South Philadelphia, said things have changed across the city in that time, and that each neighborhood needs a reliable, go-to source, if not several.
“Things are different in South Philly—and all over the city—now than they were 30 or 40 years ago when everybody on your block knew everybody else,” Stumm said. “Everyone was sort of plugged in and now, because there’s so many new residents in the neighborhood, there’s a lot of people who don’t know really what’s going on.
“I’m the nosey neighbor,” he said. “Everybody needs a nosey neighbor to go to and say, ‘Hey what’s going on over there?’”
Stumm, 34, paid homage to the magic that can be social media, noting that in March alone, the Passyunk Post received 17,000 unique visitors—a website that started less than a year ago.
“It’s [social media] the only way of promoting yourself that doesn’t require paying,” he said. “Other than walking around and yelling at people on the street like an old town crier.”
For Stumm, he said his strategy comes mainly via Facebook, where 300 of the site’s 1,000 average daily visits branch from. As for Twitter, he said he tweets regularly but finds it especially useful for brand building and finding sources.
“It gets people to know you exist—just to get the name out there—and then eventually, they will come to the site for some other reason.”
The social web phenomenon is a growing one and smartphone adoption helps, but there is no question concern about news access for less web-first neighborhoods.
For every NEastPhilly.com or Frankford Gazette, there are many more without communities that have consistent web source for news — and have long since been underserved by legacy media stretched thin by new budget realities.
That’s where print media, community groups and legislators, many of whom share print mail newsletters, fill the cracks.
Elyse Hauser, assistant editor at the Fishtown Spirit, said that as a printed neighborhood newspaper, the goal is to spread the most important information, giving people stories that matter to them.
Hauser, 24, noted that community building is a critical aspect of the process.
“Community itself is really important—that the community works together,” Hauser said. “And people from different backgrounds and interests are cooperating to make their community the best place possible.”
As for physical newspapers, Hauser said they provide a link.
“A newspaper is something that everyone can have, so we’re all literally on the same page,” she said. “It’s OK for things to be online, too, but no matter what form it’s in, people are always going to want to have a local newspaper.
“There’s always going to be a place for local news,” she said.
Aside from newspapers and Internet, Hauser said civic associations are key components in a community’s engagement.
“I think that staying involved with the civic associations in the neighborhoods helps a lot because it’s a good earpiece to what people are concerned about and what they’re talking about,” she said.
Cassie Knox, 29, communications committee chair for the Passyunk Square Civic Association, said social media plays a vital role in reaching the community, along with an email list, website and postings to message boards such as Philadelphia Speaks.
Knox said the association also has a service called a “Welcome Wagon,” which is a letter sent out to new neighbors, greeting them with ways to connect to the association and community.
“It’s of a way out letting them know who we are and how they can follow us or get involved,” Knox said. “I think it’s important that all of the neighbors know what’s going on and how the civic or city can help them.
“We do reach out and let neighbors know things outside of what we’re doing as well,” she said. “There are a lot of organizations that we’re on the same page with as far as our goals—and we share information.”
Passyunk resident Andrew Poag, 34, co-founder of the video production company Narrative Media, expounded on the importance of local news and its engagement with the community.
“I think it’s really important for people to continue to stay involved,” Poag said. “It’s up to the news media to figure out the ways that people are getting their information, and then to find a way to deliver it to them in a way that’s convenient.”
Poag also spoke about the impact of hyperlocal services, and what they could provide future residents, perhaps even generations.
“We’ve got so many young people moving into this area that are going to be looking for information about what’s going on,” he said. “I think the way to do that is to build networks and websites in order to continually have a constant flow of information.”
That may mark a change for the future, but new solutions will need to be made for those residents who haven’t yet adopted these changes but still want access to information.
“That’s what people are used to now,” he said. “People are used to getting information on a constant basis and if you don’t deliver that to them, I think you risk falling behind.”
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